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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

O for overreaction

Katrina vanden Heuvel's post about V for Vendetta on the Nation's blog is puzzling in its insistence that movie reviewers aren't responding seriously to the film's Big Ideas about Contemporary Society because they don't believe the Big Ideas are important:
The New York Times' review opened with the line: 'Thumb-suckers of the world unite.' It concluded by wondering how anyone over the age of fourteen could find the movie subversive. David Denby in the New Yorker speculated that the movie would mainly appeal to 'aging kids.'

This infantilizing line of attack is sadly nothing new.

Those of us who objected to the results of the 2000 presidential election were told to, quote, 'get over it.' Those of us who were outraged by the outing of Valerie Plame were condescendingly told that this was 'how the game is played.' Those of us who question the continued occupation of Iraq are accused of being quitters or 'cut-and-runners.'

It never ceases to amaze me how desperate many members of the media are to appear cool, to show they 'get it'--their eye-rolling cynicism masquerading as maturity. Government surveillance, torture, fear-mongering, media manipulation, corporate corruption--this is how the world works, they shrug.

Well, they may be comfortable in such a world. But for those of us who are not, V for Vendetta is a movie to savor.

What if the movie just isn't very good? Isn't that what Manohla Dargis is saying in her Times review that vanden Heuvel cites extremely selectively:
The Wachowskis appear deeply enamored of the great (super) man theory of history, with mysterioso leaders who are intent on delivering the rest of us from false consciousness. Given this, it's no surprise that the geopolitical terrain staked out in this film skews so last century: globalization having been given the jackboot, partly, one imagines, because multinational capitalism, with its total market value and shareholder wealth, doesn't register as cool as all that shiny, shiny leather and crypto-Nazi styling.
Initially scheduled to be released in November 2005, to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day, the film was delayed in the wake of the July bombing attacks in London. Since then, inevitable questions and objections have been raised about whether V for Vendetta turns a terrorist into a hero, which is precisely what it does do. Predictably, the filmmakers, actors and media savants have floated the familiar formulation that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, as if this actually explained anything about how terror and power (never mind movies) work. [bolded because it's such a great point]

The more valid question is how anyone who isn't 14 or under could possibly mistake a corporate bread-and-circus entertainment like this for something subversive. You want radical? Wait for the next Claire Denis film.

And here's Stuart Klawans' review of the film in the very publication vanden Heuvel edits. He's not infantilizing anyone by pointing out that Big Ideas don't make a great movie:
But if you want simulated knife-throwing, chaotically edited fight scenes, ponderous musical cliches (the 1812 Overture, Beethoven's Fifth), wholesale borrowings from 1984, strained allusions to the Bush Administration and Fox News, lengthy and yet inconsequential protests against the ostracism of gays and lesbians, a muddled girl-in-peril plot and some gee-whiz production design, V for Vendetta is the movie for you. Never mind that the Wachowskis' characteristically logorrheic script defeats at every turn first-time director James McTeigue, who has been asked to make a comic-book movie but can't possibly keep it going. V for Vendetta is about the idea of a comic-book movie, you see, and the idea of liberation.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Tue Mar 28, 03:59:00 PM:
Ok, Alice, I was not going to watch this film. I even mocked my students, who were raving about it, because I thought they were lying when they said this film was worth seeing. The fact is, I can't stomcah Natalie, but after reading your review, I may well have to spend sometime on this one...after orals.
Blogger Marina on Tue Mar 28, 04:54:00 PM:
I have read 'V for Vendetta', and I urge you to do the same (wanna borrow?). The film takes huge liberties with the plot, and in effect becomes a film 'in the style of the book' rather than a film OF the book (like, say, Sin City was). I'm not suggesting that the Sin City approach is the best way to film graphic novels - not at all, though it does make me talk excitedly about generic mixing.
I don't mind film adaptations that wander off from the things they adapt, generally, but it IS a shame if they make interesting ideas tame, add in flashy knife fight sequences, and leave people feeling vaguely robbed of the big ideas that are promised. I am gutted that they ignored the most interesting idea that the book offers: V tells Evie that anarchy is not chaos, but a voluntary order. Their discussion on this is thrilling.
plus, I feel the guardian reviewer said it all when he described Natalie Portman as 'reliably terrible'...

Comic Book Pedant since all of three weeks ago.